08/19/2009 - Many Americans are balking again at the prospect of health care reform. This is surprising in light of how much priority the public gave health care as an issue during the presidential campaign, and how critical it was of President Bush's failure to act on this issue. But after a few months of hearing about it, a number of recent polls find the public divided over the health care proposals being considered on Capitol Hill.
A late July Pew Research survey found more opposition than support for the health care proposals before Congress. Recent Gallup and NBC/WSJ surveys show the public about evenly split over these proposals. And a CNN poll found a slight plurality favoring "Barack Obama's" plan to reform health care. As the contentious town hall meetings bear out, the opponents of health care reform and those who are following the issue most closely hold more intense feelings than do backers and those who are less engaged.
The current highly-divided climate of opinion about changing the health care system raises the question: If Medicare was being debated today would it be getting the same frosty reception that we are seeing now—and that we saw for health care reform in the Clinton years? To my mind, the answer is yes. Much of the opposition to health care reform today is being fueled by anti-government sentiment that did not exist during the mid-1960's.
A look back at the polling from 1964 and 1965 shows the American public giving broad support to the idea of Medicare. In January 1965, Gallup tested reactions to a congressional plan calling for compulsory health insurance for the elderly that would be financed out of increased Social Security taxes; 63% approved of this plan while just 28% disapproved. Harris polling at the time found comparable levels of public support for Medicare. In addition, Harris showed that, by 46% to 36%, more Americans said they preferred "medical care for the aged funded by Social Security taxes over a plan of expanded private health insurance."
Read Andrew Kohut's complete commentary Would Americans Welcome Medicare if it Were Being Proposed in 2009? on the Pew Research Center's Web site.